Mission Chinese Bathroom is Really Something

Mission Chinese Lamb

Mission Chinese Lamb

So, yes, I actually did have my mind blown at Mission Chinese in NYC this past week.  Really, the food is beyond exciting, yet humble and truly delicious.  The cumin lamb ribs were the kinda thing that requires loud grunting to eat.  I've never been so happy to have perfectly popping, crunchy cumin crusted, perfectly rendered, super lamby hunks of lamb fat in my mouth.  Fuck.  It was so good it kinda hurts me a little.

Besides the food, they have a way with decor that can make you feel a bit . . . funny?  As a guy who is in the process of opening a restaurant, it's the little things I notice when I am out to eat - like the fact that they store extra dining chairs in the ceiling - right above your head:

Ceiling Chairs

Ceiling Chairs

But what really changed everything, was the bathroom.  Yes, go eat the damn lamb and the salt cod fried rice and the mapo tofu and all the rest, but if you go to Mission Chinese in New York, take a nice long break in the bathroom.  Check out my video, direct from the Mission Chinese water closet - and please, watch with the volume up:

Something In The Way

Kurt Cobain's wishful declaration, "It's okay to eat fish because that don't have any feelings," tempered my guilt for the last 20 years.  No longer - according to a new study, apparently the crustaceans don't like being boiled and stabbed.  David Foster Wallace was on to something.

More stuff to feel bad about.  But this pasta was pretty awesome.

Sunday Dinner Club Lobster Thermidor Cannelloni (photo by Christine Cikowski)

Roasting 101: Mushrooms

 

Hey Instagram!  I own this! Right?

Roasting vegetables is a delicate art.  But also quite simple if you follow some guidelines.  Most important is leaving space for your veggies to roast.  If you crowd them too close together, they will steam.  You need to expose as much surface area of the ingredient as possible to ensure even browning.  Make sure your knife cuts are consistent - the goal is to have all the food be roasted and cooked at the same time.  To accomplish this, make sure that all the pieces you are roasting are roughly the same size.  Chefs are not necessarily crazy about perfect knife cuts, but we are crazy about thinking through what the purpose of a knife cut is.  We don't mindlessly chop.

Take mushrooms.  High heat - say 425 degrees, well spaced, evenly cut.  Go easy on the seasoning, just a little grapeseed oil, salt, fresh cracked pepper and roast on a sheet pan until just beautiful.  The goal is not mush or to dry out the mushroom, we want them almost crisped on the outside and full and meaty on the inside.  Serve with some buttered noodles, next to a steak, some fish, or in a taco.

Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms

1 pound

shiitake mushrooms

2 tablespoons

grapeseed or olive oil

salt and fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Remove the stems from the shiitakes.  With a slightly damp paper towel, wipe the tops of the mushrooms one by one, removing any debris or dirt.  Handle them gently and don't submerge them in water.  Slice the mushrooms into 1/4 inch slices.

Place mushroom slices into a bowl and toss with the oil, salt, and pepper.  Lay onto a sheet pan, leaving plenty of space between each slice, at least 1/4 inch.  Use two sheet pans if you are feeling a little crowded.

Roast in the oven about 12-15 minutes, stir and flip the mushrooms halfway through.  Use your judgement on determining when they are done - and by that I mean taste one.  They should make you happy.  If they don't, cook them a little longer or if they are burnt to a crisp, next time pay a little more attention!

Spend the Money: Villa Manodori Balsamic

In the chef world, we are always on the look out for truly special ingredients.  One we at Sunday Dinner Club keep coming back to is

Villa Manodori Balsamic Vinegar

.  This vinegar is like a syrup - rich, mature, tangy, and intense.  The producer is celebrated Italian chef Massimo Bottura.  I used to live in New York and I was a fifth grade teacher.  I spent my evenings drinking and cooking my way through classic cookbooks and my weekends checking out all the markets and food New York has to offer.  I stumbled upon Villa Manodori vinegar at some upscale market and sampled it - blew me away.  Years later, I was lucky enough to meet Chef Bottura for a moment at a food show in NYC, and I think I may have scared him a bit - I was so damn excited to meet the guy who produced such an awesome product.  Try it out, it's pricey, but you won't need much and it'll make you happy.  Drizzle on fruit, ice cream, salad greens, steak, damn near anything.

Poor Man's Dinner, Chef Style: Curly Endive and Tuna Fusilli

tuna, curly endive, fusilli
tuna, curly endive, fusilli

Tuna, Curly Endive, Fusilli (photos by Rachel Brown)

So I had curly endive in the fridge.  But you could use kale here, escarole, dandelion greens, whatever.  And I needed some protein - for that my wife and I always keep some wild caught tuna cans around.  I highly recommend doing that -

but buy wild albacore that is responsibly caught

- it's a buck or two more and if that's too much, eat something else you bastard.

Tuna Can
Tuna Can

This pasta is super easy and only takes about 1/2 hour from start to finish - a few more when you and your wife are trying to photograph the process. The most essential part of the dish comes right at the beginning.  Sweat and then slightly caramelize your aromatics. In other words - cook some onions, a little garlic and red chile if you like, really slowly in a decent amount of grapeseed or olive oil. Start low and slow, letting the onions get a bit soft - then up the heat and let them get a touch golden. Don't go too far, nothing bad will happen, but I like to still let my veggies have some integrity on their own to give another texture to dish. Mushy onions don't have much texture. 

Then you throw in some washed greens - in this case the aforementioned curly endive.  Give everything a toss and think: "How pretty."

Sprinkle some Alepo pepper into the dish.  It's awesome - adding both a zing and a bit of bite. Sweet and tangy and only a hair spicy.  From Aleppo in Syria, pray for them - they are having a really shitty time over there. 

Be sure to cook your pasta al dente, toss the whole thing together with the tuna.   Chef trick - always add some butter to finish your pasta.  It does a couple of things: one it adds fat which is a great carrier for flavor - all that time you spent on those onions earlier?  Yeah, add some butter so you can taste that. The butter also starts to melt when it hits the hot pasta and the water that still clings to the pasta, along with the warm oniony, curly endivey juices in the pan emulisfy or come together with the butter to form something like a sauce. 

When you are done, season the dish up, make sure you can really taste it. If not add some more salt. And last but not least, squeeze half a lemon into the dish and toss one last time. It'll brighten the whole thing.

Curly Endive, Tuna and Fusilli

2 tbsp.

grapeseed oil or olive oil

1 large

onion

, peeled, quartered and sliced thin

3 cloves

garlic

, peeled and roughly chopped

1

red jalapeño

, stemmed, seeded and julienned (slice thin)

1 lb. f

usilli

(I used some colorful stuff)

1 bunch

curly endive

, washed and roughly chopped

1 tsp.

Aleppo pepper

1 small can

wild caught tuna

, drained (water or oil, both work)

1 or 2 tbsp.

butter

juice of 1/2 l

emon

salt and pepper

to taste

Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil for the pasta.  Set a large saute pan over medium-low heat and add the oil and let it get hot.  Add the onions, garlic, chile and a pinch of salt.  You should hear a little sizzle - not too much.  Sweat the onion mixture slowly, about 8 minutes until softened.  Then increase the heat to medium-high for a minute or two, just until the onion mixture starts to brown a bit.  

Add a handful of salt to the now boiling pot of water and carefully drop the fusilli in and give it a stir.  Cook until just al dente.  

While pasta is cooking, add the curly endive to the onions and stir together over medium-high heat, just until it wilts, about 1 or 2 minutes.  Add the Aleppo pepper and toss.  

Strain the pasta and do not rinse.  In fact, leave a little hot water on the pasta, don't shake it too much when draining.  Return the pasta to its empty but still hot pot and set over medium heat.  Quickly add the onion and curly endive mixture to the pasta and toss together.  Break up the tuna and add to the pasta along with the knob of butter.  Gently stir the butter and tuna into the pasta over medium heat, about 1 minute.  Cut the heat, squeeze in the lemon juice and stir again.  Taste.  Needs more salt right?  Add some, and if you like pepper or a little more Aleppo - go for it.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4 for Dinner 

GRANDMA ALERT: Rigatoni Filo e Fumo

At Sunday Dinner Club we are always asked about our style of cuisine - we are never totally sure what to say, but I like "seasonal grandma food."  Food that stays rooted to tradition but is updated for the seasons.  I'm always on the look out for "grandma food."  Food your grandma (or your fantasy grandma) might have made.

Here's one: rigatoni filo e fumo at

La Bocca della Verita'

in Lincoln Square.  Seems to translate to rigatoni with wire and smoke.  The dish is simple - spicy tomato sauce, smoky guanciale, wiry fresh mozzarella and rigatoni.  It's fucking good.  They often don't have it on the menu, sometimes it's a special.  They might hate that I share this, but if you ask for it when it's not on the menu and it's a slow night - they just might make it for you.  

La Bocca is the quintessential neighborhood Italian restaurant - nothing pretentious, easy decor, and relaxed environment run by a mother and daughter who clearly love what they do and have built a life that revolves around the restaurant.  Food is exactly what you want and always good - tomato sauces are pretty special.  Had my first date with my wife there.  She had Spaghetti and Clams and I had, you guessed it, filo e fume! 

Rigatoni Filo e Fumo at La Bocca de la Verita

Seen here through the GRANDMA ALERT filter!

Skinny People Booths

Visited the Violet Hour on New Year's Day for the first time.  Not sure why I had never been before.  Had a great time with friends, and guess what - the Violet Hour was great!  I didn't get turned away at the door - I fit into the booth - just barely.

Our server was so good at his job that I wanted him to be my friend.  And the drinks: thoughtful, exciting, and like a great but simple bite of food - you can tell when care has been infused along with the kefir lime leaf. Oh, and sad Leonard Cohen filled the room - not a alt/hipster wispy peep heard all night (although this video is something).

My drink at the Violet Hour?  The Presbyterian.  I always go for the religious beverages.  It's absurdly simple - ginger, bubbles, sweetness, whiskey, lemon, ice cube (or if you are the Violet Hour, one gigantic, phallic ice cube).  Make sure each item is the best you can get and you will be quite happy, at least for a little while.  I like to throw in a little molasses for some extra bite.

Josh's Presbyterian

Ginger Syrup
1 large knob of ginger, unpeeled, washed
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 TB blackstrap molasses
1 tsp lemon juice

For the Cocktail
Ginger Syrup
Good Rye, Whiskey, or Bourbon
Soda Water
Lemon Peel

Make a ginger syrup by grating the ginger (or just slice it thin if you prefer a little less gingerness).  Combine the ginger with the water, sugar, molasses and lemon juice in a small sauce pot and stir.  Bring to a simmer for a moment and then reduce heat to a bare simmer for a half hour or so until delicious.  Strain syrup to remove ginger bits and cool.

To make the drink, fill a 12 oz glass with ice (or the above mentioned ice phallis).  Add some ginger syrup, it's a preference thing - about a tablespoon.  Add a shot or two of whiskey/bourbon/rye.  Add soda to fill and run a little lemon peel around the rim of the glass and drop it in.  Have a nice day and lose some weight.

Proof God Was Wrong

God must never have tried Tamworth Bacon from La Quercia in Iowa, because there is not a chance in hell it would be forbidden if he/she had. Super sweet, just the right amount of smoke, and a dense, great chew that is perfect for lardons, but also has nice crispness when sliced thin. Sunday Dinner has been using it all over the place.  Last week in a rabbit Fricassee and below in a carbonara. Herb and Kathy Eckhouse from La Quercia produce some of our favorite treats, from guanciale to pancetta to prosciutto.  Several years ago, I once happened to serve a slice of La Quercia Prosciutto to Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini, who was visiting the Green City Market on a trip from Italy.  He had heard we had a local and sustainable prosciutto from Iowa on our egg sandwich that day.  He apparently was skeptical about the quality of an American made prosciutto.  I handed him a slice and he carefully held it up to the sun, pressed it to his nose, breathed deep, and took a bite.  He was quiet, taking his time to eat the slice.  He finished, grinned, and said in broken English, "really from Iowa?"

Fresh Extruded Spaghetti Carbonara, Soft Pullet Yolk, La Quercia Tamworth Bacon - It hurts to look.

Fresh Extruded Spaghetti Carbonara, Soft Pullet Yolk, La Quercia Tamworth Bacon - It hurts to look.

Links To The Past

As a chef, the task of building flavor into a single dish is a constant.  If we're making a lobster ravioli, goddammit, we want that bite of food to taste like a giant lobster.  Now we might add some alternate flavor notes, some herbs, a little booze, perhaps a little acid, but lobster must permeate.  So, obviously we would fill the ravioli with lobster, but the béchamel we make to sauce the ravioli - we'll start with a base of lobster stock.  The mushrooms we serve as a garnish - toss em with some lobster butter.  Lobster on lobster on lobster.  Throw in a little tarragon, a splash of sherry and you really have something.  When a diner takes a bite of that lobster dish, we want them to taste depth, and layering, and fully lobster (yes, I can't stop thinking about lobsters).

That's all fine and good for a single dish, but what about a whole menu?  At Sunday Dinner Club we think in menus - we serve a set four, five, or six course menu that has to flow, be balanced, and feel "right."  We always attempt to find complimentary dishes and flavors as the menu progresses.  We try to balance starches, and dairy, and meat, and veg.  We try to flow from one dish to the next, focused on the progression, moving forward on the menu, but also moving away from the previous dish.  Unlike the repetitive layering of a single plate, when composing a full menu, we have always been conscious to not repeat ingredients, to move ahead in an appropriate but certainly different way from the previous dish.  Our method of menu building, to find a menu direction, and go forward has been successful, exciting and useful.

But recently I was lucky enough to dine at Goosefoot, and experienced top level execution, elegance and soul.  Goosefoot blew me away.  After the meal I could not stop thinking about the menu, and the progression.  Goosefoot operates in set menus as well, and Chef Chris Nugent and his team offered a menu that of course had direction and flow.  But it had something else as well -  it had continuity, it had links to the past.  Nugent's menu, kept returning to flavors from previous courses.  An example - rather than serving mushrooms once, and then moving along, Nugent returns again and again to mushrooms.  Currently he offers truffles with chestnut soup, maitakes with sea bass, later trumpet mushrooms served with beef.  Other flavors and herbs and aromatics return as well.  Ever finished a dish at a great meal and felt angry because it's over?  At Goosefoot, the dish keeps returning, not in a bash you over the head sort of way, but in a subtle, thoughtful, and truly generous way.

The Goosefoot menu was a revelation to me.  Rather than settling for building flavor in each dish, and then moving forward to build another separate, yes, maybe complimentary, but still distinct flavor and dish, Goosefoot keeps reminding us of where we just were, and that was truly magnificent.